Surprise, surprise: Indiana students excited

(Speaking of Indiana, our news story about incoming freshman Ron Patterson's failure to meet the school's academic standards, thus forcing him to seek another four-year school or prep academy, is here.)

In 2011–12, Cody Zeller helped lead a resurgent Indiana to its best season since 2002’s Final Four run. Zeller is back for his sophomore campaign, the Hoosiers are adding a deep and talented recruiting class to a largely intact group, and Indiana is a projected No. 1 seed and one of just two or three clear favorites to emerge from a wide-open 2012–13 national title race.

All of these oft-repeated facts have made it very difficult to remember where this program was less than two years ago. On Jan. 28, 2011, Indiana beat No. 21 Illinois 52–49 in Bloomington, Ind. It was Indiana’s first win over a ranked opponent in 20 games, and it spawned an impromptu Assembly Hall concourse love-in attended by coach Tom Crean himself. Here were Indiana fans, 11–10 on the season to date, celebrating an ugly 3-point win over a rather mediocre Illinois team. Given the program’s illustrious history, it felt more than little bit silly. Cathartic? Sure. But still silly.

In any case, it was a revealing indication of just how low Indiana had sunk into its post-Kelvin Sampson morass, and just how far its come -- and how quickly -- since.

Another such indication came Tuesday, via the Indianapolis Star’s Terry Hutchens, who reported Indiana’s announcement that it had sold all 12,400 student season tickets available for the 2012–13 season nearly a week before students returned to campus for the fall semester. This is no surprise, obviously: Indiana is a basketball-mad school with a very good team. Even with the nation’s largest student section -- a 7,800-seat allotment that includes seats behind both baskets, in the lower-level corner, and in the nosebleed-inducing balcony -- those tickets were bound to be gobbled up by students thrilled at the notion of watching an elite team chase a national championship for the first time in nearly a decade.

In fact, that’s not even the most interesting part of the story. For the majority of Crean’s tenure at the school, Indiana students have been borderline apathetic about student tickets. Last season, the Hoosiers sold 7,632 student seats -- a good number, but still shy of a sell out. In Crean’s first year (2008–09), per the Star, just 4,500 tickets were sold. By and large, Indiana fans have remained loyal to the program; crowds during Crean’s first two seasons, which featured a grand total of 16 combined wins, were about as enthusiastic and loud as anyone could reasonably expect. But Indiana students, which now hail from a more diverse geographical background (New York and New Jersey have become nearly equal to the Chicago area in their number of out-of-state IU enrollees) than at any time in the school’s long history, could be forgiven for staying away.

This year, not only did every student seat sell out before classes began, but every student ticket package required the purchase (at $5 apiece) of tickets for six Indiana football games. In other words, the Hoosier resurrection -- from 6 wins to 10 to 12 to 27 to a likely preseason No. 1 ranking -- came so rapidly, and so emotionally, that Indiana students are willing to -- gasp -- buy football tickets to make sure they’re a part of it. Now that’s a turnaround.